ST. MARYS – Auglaize County Cancer Association (ACCA) director Jo Ellison knows on a personal level that even after the pink ribbons are taken down at the end of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, the fight against cancer will be a year-round struggle. She knows this because she has been fighting a 2016 recurrence of cancer. She was first diagnosed in August 2011.
She said back in 2011, the tumor was a just 2 cm so the doctors tried 3 rounds of chemo but she said, “it gave me migraines.” Worse, the mass grew to 5.2 cm by November so she had it removed. A second surgery a month later, plus several rounds of chemo appeared to clear up the malignancy.
But, in October 2016, they found the cancer had spread into her liver, armpit and illiac crest, five vertebrate and the left fifth rib. Today her treatment is two shots of Faslodex every four weeks and daily Femora pills and Agora CBD capsules. Ellison went on to be ACCA director in May 2017 after joining their board in 2016.
Despite her ongoing battle with cancer, she is organizing the first annual ACCA report which will be sent to all Auglaize County residents around Thanksgiving, detailing their efforts to both help cancer victims as well as raise funds for future needs. The mailing will also include an envelope for donations.
She emphasized that the money they raise stays in the county. Except for an office manager, who receives a small stipend, everyone else involved with ACCA are volunteers. Ellison herself also continues to work and raise her son.
The annual report will describe the success of “Kickin’ Cancer’s Bootie”, one of the latest business competition fund-raising campaigns instituted in 2018. Lucky Steer was recognized as the 2018 top fund-raiser. Ellison said they created a bootie-shaped receptacles which they placed at various businesses.
They also have involved nine area schools in the Bootie competition, where from Oct. 1 to March 31, schools will compete to see which school will win the traveling trophy for the most money raised.
Other 2018 fund-raisers included a Quarter Auction last March which raised $11,000. The Tailgate For Cancer donated $17,500 last year and the United Way $9200. The Susan G Koman also has given them a grant.
Ellison said the ACCA is set up to help cancer victims and their families and friends.
“At our newly-relocated office at 133 E. Spring St., visitors can find cancer supplies such as wigs, hats, scarves, bras and breast forms,” she said. They also provide a type of “chemo goodie bag” of supplies to make treatment sessions easier, such as a blanket, activity books, and hand sanitizer,” she said.
“We also offer financial support for the cost of mileage for people traveling to their doctors,” she said, “and we have supplies ranging from nutritional supplements to some personal care items.” For example, she said they had a client whose chemotherapy made her stomach too touchy to consume anything but Boost. The agency provided her with five cans per day, which over a month would cost $150.
The money is needed, said Ellison. In one year, the association has paid out over $30,000 in mileage compensation for cancer patients traveling to see their doctors.
In regards to her own cancer, she admits she was “terrible” about breast exams. She said she found the her original cancer tumor completely by accident. “I just brushed against it.”
When chemo caused her hair to fall out during her first round of chemo in 2011, she remembers the sadness she felt when she decided to ask her then eight-year-old son to sit on the porch to help her shave her head.
“He wrote a letter to God. He does not know I still have it,” she said. But she said she had fun with her losses, too. “I put temporary tattoos on my scalp. And the girls are still mine, one a B cup and the other a C cup.” She also has other inspirational permanent tattoos, two based on Rachel Platton’s Fight Song.
She said that in some ways family and friends a harder time when a loved one has cancer.
“We (patients) are busy with our treatments, and doctor’s visits, new diets, but they stand by and feel helpless,” she said. “My mom would call and tell me about this or that treatment.”
She said they want to help but do not know what to do.
“If they ask if they can help,” she said, “let them! Ask them to get groceries, drive you to the doctor, take you out to lunch, whatever. Just let them know how they can be of service.”
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.